Press release

Education Secretary unveils plans to change adoption law

Important and urgent changes in legislation will mean courts and councils always pursue adoption when it’s in a child’s interest.

Child holding adult hand

A fundamental change to the law will make prioritising lifelong stability for vulnerable children with a loving family a legal requirement, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has confirmed today (14 January 2016).

Over the last 2 years, the number of decisions for adoption made by courts and councils has fallen by around 50% - almost half. The government has issued important guidance to make clear that where adoption is in the best interests of the child, they must be placed with their new family as soon as possible.

In November, the Prime Minister announced a radical step change to increase the number of children adopted - including the news that the government was considering changing the adoption law to make sure the right decisions are being made - as well as plans to boost regional adoption agencies, allowing councils to merge and cutting the amount of time children spend in care.

Today, the government can confirm that it will seek to change legislation as soon as possible to make crystal clear that councils and courts must place children with the person best able to care for them right up until their 18th birthday - rather than with carers who can’t provide the support they need over the long term.

The move is part of delivering on government’s commitment to extend opportunity to everyone - and make sure every single child gets the best start in life.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:

Every single day a child spends waiting in care is a further delay to a life full of love and stability - and this simply isn’t good enough. We have a responsibility to transform the lives of our most vulnerable children, making sure they get the opportunities they deserve.

That’s why we are changing the law on adoption to make sure decisions rightly prioritise children’s long-term stability and happiness, so that children are placed with their new family as quickly as possible, helping them fulfil their potential and get the very best start in life.

This follows concerns that life-long stability and high-quality care that adoptive families can bring is not always given sufficient weight by councils and courts when they make decisions about where children should live - sometimes focusing on just who can support the child in the short term.

For the first time ever, the law will explicitly state that councils and courts must prioritise the quality of reparative care the child will need in order to recover from episodes of devastating abuse and neglect, and whether the placement will last through the child’s adolescence.

Children and Families Minister, Edward Timpson, who grew up with 90 fostered brothers and sisters including 2 adopted siblings, said:

Every child deserves a loving home and the chance to thrive, and I have seen first-hand the benefits adoption can provide, where it is in a young person’s best interests.

Where adoption is in the best interests of the child, we must make sure they are matched quickly with carers who are right for them - those who can provide love and care for a vulnerable young person until their 18th birthday and into adulthood.

Increased government funding totalling £200 million will also be made available - redoubling efforts to break down bureaucratic barriers in the adoption system which can lead to children waiting in care for months longer than necessary.

The money will:

  • see the speeding up of adoptions of harder-to-place children
  • support the creation of new regional adoption agencies to improve the recruitment of adopters - and the matching with children
  • strengthen voluntary adoption agencies
  • ensure social workers have the right knowledge and skills to make robust decisions about the best placements for children

In addition, the government’s successful Adoption Support Fund will be extended for the next 4 years, so adoptive families can access funding for crucial therapy services from day one of caring for their child, rather than waiting months for the adoption order to be finalised.

Today’s announcement builds on a direct intervention by the Prime Minister at the end of last year, where he announced new measures to increase the number of children adopted and speed up the process - so children are found the right homes sooner.

The government has also announced plans to change regulations so councils have to carry out more thorough assessments of special guardians to make sure children are in the right home and with the right relatives, rather than distant family members they’ve never met.

Notes to editors

  1. The government will invest £200m over this Parliament to:
    • support the development of new regional adoption agencies and strengthen voluntary adoption agencies to improve and accelerate recruitment, matching and adoption support
    • increase the number of adoptions for harder-to-place children by continuing to pay the ‘inter-agency fee’ - the fee charged by local authorities and adoption agencies when placing a child with a family from another agency - with over 300 children placed as a result of the scheme in the last 3 months
    • increase funding for the Adoption Support Fund every year, including widening scope so families can receive support from the moment children are placed with them, rather than having to wait until the adoption order is finalised
    • develop the workforce to ensure all social workers have the skills and knowledge to make swift and robust decisions about the best placements for children that meet their short- and long-term needs
  2. Read more about the regional adoption agencies programme.
  3. Read more about the Adoption Support Fund.

DfE enquiries

Published 14 January 2016